Ho Chi Minh City is a snapshot of what makes Vietnam a popular destination for travellers from around the world. Culture, colour and cuisine collide in the former capital of South Vietnam, and it's enough to take your breath away.
But where do you go to take a diversion from the traditional tourist routes, and see something a bit different? These four unique places in Ho Chi Minh City give you the opportunity for some respite, and a chance to gain a new perspective on this fascinating urban landscape.
Bến Thành Market Lookout
Bến Thành is often touted as a must-do for visitors to Ho Chi Minh City, and has gained a place among Vietnams's most famous markets. Without a doubt, the grand building, and the throngs of people who flock to its multitude of stalls, are a sight to behold. That said, if you're looking to take a break from the intense bargaining tactics of the local vendors, a little-known secret exists within this tourist hotspot.
To find it, however, will require a little work. Upon entry to the market, you can pick up a map showing a plan of the market with numbered kiosks. Using this, head to the unremarkable row of stalls in the south corner of Bến Thành. There, near to shop 94, you'll find a little staircase. This is what you're looking for.
Up in the rafters you not only have a bird's-eye view of the chaos of the market below, but the chance to catch a glimpse into the lives of the traders who come here to leave offerings and pray to the gods for a successful trading day.
Of course, as you need to be in the market building to gain access to the lookout, this experience is only available between 6.00am and 6.00pm. We recommend going early before the vendors become glued to their stalls.
It should be remembered that as an in-use sacred site, visitors should pay proper respect. Be mindful of the worshippers when taking photos, and keep noise to a minimum so as not to disturb.
Next on our list of secret places in Ho Chi Minh is Era Café - hiding in plain sight amid the bustle of District Three, this cosy joint is the perfect place to try some of Vietnam's famous coffee.
Era is low-key, with a capacity of about 20 people, and the owners seem to like it that way - there isn't even a street sign to lure in passers-by. If you don't already know of its existence, you will simply miss it. However, with a map, and the knowledge that Cà phê Era can be found at 58C Trần Quốc Thảo Street, you're in on the secret.
Upon entry, you'll be struck in equal measures by the aroma of fresh coffee and the sound of jazz wafting from classic speakers. The menu is simple - juices, cocktails and coffees, but there are a few house rules you need to know.
If you're a laptop or phone addict, this isn't the place for you. Instructions, in Vietnamese, make it clear that this is a tech-free zone. You're entering a colonial time warp, complete with candle-lighting - embrace it!
Ly Tu Trong Apartment Complex
While museums can give the narrative of history, there's nothing like experiencing it firsthand. The Ly Tu Trong Apartment Complex, standing on the corner of Lý Tự Trọng Street and Đồng Khởi Street, sticks out like a sore thumb among its modern neighbours.
However, behind the dated facade, you'll find a diverse mall with bars, restaurants and fascinating boutiques. This kind of conversion is common amongst many of the colonial apartment buildings in Ho Chi Minh City, but Ly Tu Trong has retained much of its former elegance and charm. The elevator is the original from the days of the French occupation, and you don't have to work hard at all to imagine how life would have been for the building's former inhabitants.
However, this is also a good place for some shopping and relaxing. Cong Caphe (located on the first floor) is part of a chain you will see around Vietnam, but the outlet in Ly Tu Trong provides a great balcony view of the surrounding streets, as well as an interesting Vietnam war theme.
Co Hong's Com Tam
Vietnamese food is now a staple around the world, and with good reason - it's delicious. However, when you're in the country you want to be sure you're getting an authentic taste rather tourist-targeted fare.
You don't get much more authentic than Co Hong's Com Tam. The dish, whose name literally translates as 'broken rice', originates in South Vietnam, and is especially popular in Ho Chi Minh City. Co Hong serves up a twist on this classic, complete with eggs and grilled pork chops, every night to local taxi drivers and construction workers.
The stall can be found at the corner of Hoàng Diệu Street and the Calmette Bridge in District Four until 4.00am. It’s this the perfect on-the-go place for hungry visitors wishing to explore the life of the city after dark.
While this stall may be news to tourists, Co Hong's is no secret to the locals. Joining the assembly line of customers will see you rubbing shoulders with people from all walks of life, and even the occasional celebrity.
If these suggestions have whetted your appetite for visiting Ho Chi Minh City, there's plenty more where they came from. Our travel agents can work with you to create a Vietnamese experience tailored to your unique specifications. For more information, get in touch with us today.